by Carolyn Ellis, Features EditorMetLife recently rolled out a new integrated marketing campaign to support agents and advisors in face-to-face retail sales. We talked with Paul LaPiana about how the new MetLife Premier Client Group, supported by The MetLife Perspective marketing and promotional campaign, will meet the evolving needs of their distribution channel as well as today’s consumers.
PL: Retail business at MetLife is very important; it represents about 40 percent of our revenue and earnings in any given year. Over the past 18 months we have been transforming our retail business to position it to move forward across the industry. This effort is very focused on face-to-face, both in the channel I represent, the MetLife Premier Client Group, which is our affiliated advisors (there are about 5300 advisors across the country in about 52 firms) as well as our third party distribution organization that focuses in various channels on distributing life insurance, annuity, and disability products throughout the industry. The MetLife Perspective campaign gives us a platform for bringing everyone together while reinforcing MetLife’s commitment to and investment in face-to-face distribution.
L&HA: Based on your years in the business, what was most notable about 2013?
PL: 2013 was about changing the product mix in this industry. Life insurance has shifted from no-lapse, lifetime guarantees to a focus on cash value, with indexed universal life and whole life products becoming more of a focus. The annuity business is being derisked in part by shifting from guaranteed income products to a focus on accumulation. These changes are presenting interesting opportunities to advisors and firms that take a more holistic approach to understanding clients’ wealth and risk management needs. We are investing significant resources in helping our advisors take this more needs-based approach to selling.
L&HA: The MetLife Perspective is two-prong, reaching out to consumers and to agents and advisors.
PL: When people think about MetLife, they think about the products that we manufacture across the protection and accumulation business, but oftentimes they aren’t thinking about the distribution organization we have in our affiliated channel, the MetLife Premier Client Group. This new name is much more relevant to the clients we serve and to the identity we should have. Our MetLife Perspective campaign will show the industry we are committed to face-to-face distribution and we have top advisors doing the right type of comprehensive planning. This will allow us to recruit new advisors that feel we can bring value to their practices. That’s Step One. Step Two is getting into the public eye because there are many Baby Boomers and Gen X individuals with complicated needs for accumulating wealth and managing retirement income, and they need a trusted advisor.
L&HA: What are you doing to assist advisors with face-to-face selling?
PL: We’re investing in training and education. We launched the Client Engagement ModelSM which is a process-driven approach to client interaction, similar to what you would see in the CFP or financial planning steps in the financial planning process. This approach gives our advisors a framework to be more systematic, diligent, and prepared for client interactions. We’re doing skill set development such as how to ask the right questions and listen the right way. Our approach is more process/solutions based than transaction/product-oriented. Team selling is also a big initiative. We call it advisor teaming. Individuals with varied backgrounds (risk management, wealth management) bring their complementary skills to the table.
L&HA: Younger adults today have low rates of life insurance ownership, and it’s hard for them to grow their retirement savings with current, low interest rates. Are they on your radar screen?
PL: Our advisors are targeting Gen X, the Baby Boomers, and some of the silent generation, individuals that have complex needs that are looking for someone to provide them with advice. But as a company we understand that insurance ownership is at an all-time low and we need to serve younger individuals as well as the middle market. An unfortunate reality is that some of these individuals aren’t getting called on by advisors because of their net worth and/or income. We have a complimentary initiative, our direct channel that reaches these new buyers through the Internet with call centers for support. We find that as people enter through that direct channel for something simple like term insurance, they begin to see they need some more guidance, and we’re able to move them to our face-to-face channel so they can have a long-term relationship with MetLife.
L&HA: What we might call the classic family model is changing dramatically. What’s the trigger for purchasing life insurance if 20- and 30-somethings aren’t married or don’t have children?
PL: Life insurance can be used for protection, but many products today have a cash accumulation focus like whole life, universal, variable and index. These products are designed for a 30-something year-old with a decent income, single, and max funding the 401k defined contribution plan. Life insurance can be a good place to put money because money in an insurance contract properly designed grows tax deferred and can come out tax-favored. If marriage is on the horizon, buying insurance at a younger age provides lower rates and theoretically a better health situation.
L&HA: You just have to get to them.
PL: Yes, many times a sale doesn’t come from the insurance moniker, it comes from asking, “Are you interested in taking care of your financial future,” which opens up the conversation that leads to insurance as a piece of their portfolio. Our advisors do full-service planning so they have a broad avenue of approach.
L&HA: Are you looking for cost savings and greater efficiency with technology?
PL: There are a number of technology initiatives within our product group, including having illustrations online and on mobile devices as well as e-application, e-signature and e-policy delivery. Adoption of these technologies is essential and as more firms adopt them, the return on investment to carriers will be realized.
L&HA: Besides wider adoption of technology innovations, what do you see on the horizon for 2014?
PL: As we head into 2014, advisors remain concerned with what will continue to change in this industry. Those who already take a holistic approach to wealth and risk management solutions have a sense of optimism. We’re complementing this approach to selling by providing what we see as a more balanced product mix that enables advisors to tailor their solutions to individual client needs.